>>>A road trip on top of the world
Photo: himalayajourney.com

A road trip on top of the world

To travel along the Friendship Highway together you have to be much more than friends. This scenic route links Tibet with Kathmandu and its average altitude is 4,000 metres above sea level.
I
t crosses the Himalayas passing by the world’s most famous mountain, Qomolangma, although you probably know it by its other name of Everest. This highway to the sky is one of the world’s highest roads, going over passes more than 5,200 metres high. Over the five days it usually takes by car, or 26 by bike, the Friendship Highway lives up to its name and forges bonds between people who tackle it. The journey has a mystical side to it, and however remote and lonely the road may be, you’ll never ride alone.
Barkhor is the main neighbourhood in Lhasa. It consists of little streets packed with street stalls and Jokhang Square, where the temple is.
Photo: http://himalayajourney.com/

A compulsory stop

The Friendship Highway connects with the track leading to Everest's north face base camp. The Geu La pass is here. Its 5,100 metres are the 'high point' of the trip, with a panoramic view of five 'eight-thousanders', including the highest in the world, Everest.

The highway consists of two roads, the 318 in Tibet and Arniko Rajmarg once in Nepal. Some 900 kilometres of landscapes and nature await. The route starts in Lhasa, the ancient ‘forbidden city’, so called because there was restricted access to foreigners until the 1960s. The three-day adaptation period required by the 3,650 metre altitude gives travellers the perfect opportunity to explore the area. The last residence of the Dalai Lama was here, in Potala Palace. Its thirteen floors seem to be embedded in the mountain, resulting in an impressive two-colour building formed by the White and Red Palaces. It is a World Heritage Site, together with Norbulingka Palace and the Jokhang Temple. The latter is where the ‘kora’ takes place, with thousands of people walking round it in circles while they pray and chant their prayers. The air is heavy with the smell of yak butter candles.
Tibetan architecture can be seen all along the way in the shape of temples and monasteries like the Gyangtse Kumbum, the first stop after Lhasa. Its 108 chapels are decorated with paintings of Buddha and house more than 3,000 statues. It’s known as ‘the Stupa of many Buddhas’. To get there you have to cross valleys and mountain passes. They are also part of Tibet’s ancestral architecture. The first pass, Kamba La, is over 4,794 metres high and affords the best views over lake Yamzho Yumco, ‘jade lake’ for Tibetans, although it actually reflects all kinds of hues, from navy blue to turquoise. The highest pass is Gyatso La (5,248 metres). From there, the snowy peaks of the ‘eight-thousanders’ seem to be just a little closer.
Tibetans have adapted to living at more than 4,000 metres above sea level. According to Nature magazine, this is due to genes passed down by their ancestors.
Photo: http://himalayajourney.com/
The road winds its way over and under the Himalayas and is dotted with small villages where Tibetan customs are still observed. Shigatse is the second largest town. You’ll find the Tashilhunpo monastery here, once home to the Panchen Lama, the second figure in Buddhism after the Dalai Lama. The much smaller Rongphu monastery is the highest in the world at 5,030 metres. Climbers pass by here on their way up to Everest base camp.
Rongphu Monastery provides more than 100 beds plus meals for travellers.
Photo: http://himalayajourney.com/
Nepal is on the other side of Friendship Bridge. From here it’s 115 kilometres to the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu. There are still places to explore, like the medieval town of Bhaktapur, but your final destination is getting closer. ‘Namaste maro sathi’, farewell my friend.

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